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FABULOUS FOUR BATTLE ZOOZOO, THE WIZARD
(The king and queen have been imprisoned. Princess Samara journeys to find friends who will help her to rescue them. Opening chapters are separately uploaded)
11. JOURNEY TO THE HOTLANDS
Raja climbed on top of Barado in front of Samara because he was both younger and shorter than she was. Barado galloped off.
They passed the same rocky mountains that Samara had seen on the way to Wetlands, but then Barado took a turn southward. Soon, they reached the plains where the vegetation grew thick and green. They would have stopped to enjoy the view, but Samara knew that Raja would want to get his hands on the medicine needed for his grandmother as soon as possible.
‘How far are we, Barado? she asked her mount, for Barado had been to the Hotlands once earlier, a long time ago.
‘Still a long way off, Princess,’ said Barado. ‘We need to move on, so that we reach our destination before darkness falls.’
The bright yellow sun grew hotter, and they sped past pale yellow sandy deserts. Once Barado stopped to let a herd of camels pass.
‘Look at their long, curvy necks,’ said Samara. ‘So funny!’
‘And they actually have toes!’ added Raja.
‘To me, they look like a tall horse with a small head,’ grunted Barado. ‘Maybe they don’t have many brains.’
It was evening by the time they reached the Hotlands. Samara was surprised to find a slight nip in the air.
‘How everyone tells tall tales!’ Samara exclaimed. ‘I learnt that the Hotlands would be as hot as a furnace.’
‘It’s very pleasant,’ agreed Raja.
‘And you, Barado?’ asked the princess. ‘You must be feeling cool too.’
‘It’s all the same to me, Princess,’ said Barado. For him temperatures didn’t really matter, as he was a special horse whose body adapted very quickly to whatever climate he was in.
‘I think I’ll put something on,’ said Samara, with a shiver. ‘Perhaps a light shawl. Raja, would you like something?’
‘No, I’m not cold,’ said Raja, who had a lot of bravado about him.
But where were they going to find Hoven, the capital of the Hotlands? There were no milestones in the desert, no signposts and nothing to indicate the direction they needed to travel in. Neither were there any human dwellings that they could have approached. Barado was also at a loss.
Samara and Raja got off the horse. The princess wrapped a light shawl around her., She and Raja sat down on the cool sands of the desert. The three of them racked their brains for a way to reach Hoven.
‘I don’t think there is any point in going any further,’ said Samara, ‘unless we are very sure we are heading in the right direction.’
‘That’s true,’ agreed Raja, glumly. ‘We do need to get the medicine for Dadima as soon as possible. We can’t simply be waiting here.’ His brow creased and his voice broke. ‘I worry that she won’t survive long without it.’
‘I know, Raja,’ said the princess, her voice warm with sympathy. ‘I’m sure we won’t have to wait long. Someone will give us directions.’
‘But where are we going to find that someone,’ said Raja, frowning, ‘who can guide us in this lonely and silent desert?’
The play was to reach the Hotlands before it became dark, but now that looked unlikely. Once night fell it would be impossible to find someone who could give them directions. Would they have to spend the night in the desert in the open? Such thoughts went through Samara’s, Raja’s and Barado’s mind, but they didn’t speak them aloud, for fear of worrying the others.
In the fading light of the day, even as the sun turned orange, a tiny dot appeared in the distance.
‘Look!’ cried Samara suddenly. ‘Isn’t there something moving over there?’
Indeed, when the three of them stared hard, they could just make out a small, moving speck on the horizon. As they continued to stare at the speck, trying to determine whether it was a man or a beast, it disappeared out of sight.
‘Quick!’ said Samara. ‘Let’s follow it!’
‘But I can’t see it any more,’ complained Raja.
‘Neither can I,’ said Samara, impatiently, ‘but we knew where it was a moment ago, didn’t we?’
Raja and Samara once again climbed on top of Barado and he galloped off in the general direction where they had seen the speck. Soon afterwards, they saw what it was: a small boy on top of a one-humped camel. The boy wore a blue cotton shirt and loose white trousers. He wore a brown turban around his head. From his appearance he seemed to be just a bit older than Raja. His complexion was the colour of the brown camel he rode, not as fair as Raja and not as dark as the princess.
When they reached the boy, Raja eagerly greeted him with the words, ‘Good evening, friend, please could you tell us the way to Hoven?’
‘Happy to help a friend,’ said the boy on the camel, ‘but we have a custom here that must be followed. In the desert it gets so lonely, whenever travellers meet, they first get briefly acquainted. So, let us be introduced. Who might you be?’
Samara could see there was something friendly and warm about him. She felt sure he could be trusted. She dismounted and stepped forward.
‘This is Raja, I am Samara, and this is our horse and good friend, Barado. We are on our way to Hoven to buy some Osfofo, an herbal medicine for Raja’s grandmother.’
‘I am pleased to meet all of you,’ said the boy, getting off his camel. ‘My name is Nando. You have a beautiful horse. Would you like to sell it?’ He then saw that the princess looked angry. ‘Don’t be angry. I will give you a good price. I can offer you three horses for your one white horse.’
‘Barado is not for sale,’ said Samara crossly. ‘Besides, what do you need horses for? You only have camels in the Hotlands, don’t you?’
‘What you say is true of most of the Hotlands,’ said Nando, ‘but not about where I come from. We have horses too.’
‘I see,’ said the princess, ‘but in any case, as I’ve just told you, our horse is not for sale. Now, would you be so kind as to tell us the way to Hoven? It is most urgent that we get there as soon as possible.’
‘Forgive me for causing offence, Princess,’ said Nando. ‘You’ll have to wait for a just a little while. A map to Hoven will soon appear in the skies.’
Despite their anxiety, Raja and Samara couldn’t help but laugh.
‘He he!’ laughed Raja. ‘He he! He rolled on the sands, clutching his stomach.
Even Barado showed his large teeth. A map in the skies? Impossible – and ridiculous.
‘I see you don’t believe me,’ said Nando, crossly, ‘but bear with me for a little longer, and I will soon show you the map.’
As they waited, the orange that coloured the horizon disappeared, and the darkness came. As night fell, thousands of stars appeared in the sky, twinkling away merrily. A full moon rose, so there was still enough light for them to see each other.
‘See, the map has appeared,’ said Nando, ‘just as I said it would, Princess.’ He looked at Samara triumphantly.
‘Now, how did you know I was a princess?’ said Samara.
‘I don’t know,’ said Nando. ‘The words just came out of my mouth, but I see from your reaction that I was right.’ He paused. ‘Do you know how to read the stars, Princess?’
‘Not really,’ said the princess.
‘We never said the stars wouldn’t appear,’ said Raja, ‘but where is the map?’
‘My friend Raja, I shall point out the star that can help you reach your destination,’ said Nando. ‘Both of you, please come closer to me so that you can better follow the line of my vision.’
Raja and Samara crowded around him. He pointed to a distant group of stars. ‘Do you see that cluster of stars over there?’ he asked. Raja and Samara strained to make out the cluster he was talking about and tried to follow the line of his vision. The sky was studded with millions of stars and they wanted to be sure they were looking at the right ones.
‘You mean that one which has a slightly pinkish star in the middle?’ asked Raja.
‘Pinkish star? Yes, that’s clever of you to have spotted that,’ said Nando. ‘Now, inside that cluster towards the middle, do you see the group of stars that is making an octagon?’ he asked them. ‘You do know what an octagon is, don’t you?’
‘Oh, yes,’ said Samara. ‘An octagon has eight sides to it. Let me see what you mean.’ She peered at the group of stars. ‘Yes, I see the octagon. Do you see it, Raja?’
Raja searched carefully, and then he could see the octagon as well.
‘Now, as the princess said, an octagon has eight sides,’ said Nando. ‘If you extend all the sides, you will see that one particular side connects up with a really bright star. Do you see that star?’
Samara and Raja extended the sides of the octagon in all directions as Nando had suggested, and very soon became aware of the bright star he had spoken about.
‘Well, now you know the way,’ laughed Nando. ‘All you have to do is just follow that star and you will reach your destination. That’s your readymade map in the sky that you can never lose.’
He shook hands with Samara and then with Raja. He suddenly stopped short.
‘Your hand seems a bit clammy to me, Raja,’ he said. ‘Sometimes this can be a sign of the dreaded teribola. It’s quite a common infection around these parts.’
Raja looked puzzled. ‘I feel fine,’ he said. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.’
‘Oh, but everybody feels fine at the beginning,’ said Nando. ‘Tell me, are you carrying some Koko medicine?’
‘I’ve never heard of it,’ said Samara. ‘What’s it supposed to do?’
‘It’s like a magical cure for the teribola,’ said Nando. ‘It’s a bit like the medicine you are going to buy for Raja’s grandma. But you don’t get so much time to apply the antidote. You have to administer Koko medicine within four hours of getting the fever, otherwise it’s good bye.’
‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,’ said Samara, ‘but we’ll buy some Koko medicine to take back to Wetlands.’
‘I’m sure I don’t need it,’ said Raja. ‘I’ve never felt better in my life.’
‘Your face looks a bit flushed to me,’ said Nando, ‘but that just might be the colour of your skin. Do you feel an itching in your toes?’
‘No,’ said Raja. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘Usually it’s a symptom of the disease, so it’s good they don’t itch.’
‘I’m sure I’m perfectly fine,’ insisted Raja.
‘Of course, there are many reasons why one’s hands can suddenly turn clammy,’ said Nando, ‘but do buy the medicine, just in case.’
They thanked Nando and hoped they would see him again.
‘You’ll possibly see me in Hoven tomorrow.’ At a signal from Nando, the camel squatted on its haunches, and the boy sat on the camel. He patted a crate behind him, fastened to the camel’s back. ‘I have a consignment of fruit to deliver in another town and then I’ll make my way to the capital. Do you know where you’ll be staying?’
Samara and Raja shook their head.
‘In that case I suggest you stay at the Sarai,’ said Nando. ‘It’s the best place to stay in town, and we’ll almost certainly meet each other if you decide to stay there.’
Samara and Raja thanked him once more for his help and advice, and mounted Barado. As they waved good bye to each other, it occurred to the princess that Nando might be the boy they were looking for, but she couldn’t see how he, even with his tremendous navigational skills and knowledge of the stars, could possibly help to rescue her parents.
They made slow progress across the pale-yellow sands. Even Barado with all his racing skills was not able to go at a proper gallop as his hooves sank into the yellow sand all around them. The temperature was slowly dropping and soon there was almost a chill in the air. Samara wondered why it was called the Hotlands. She shivered suddenly. There was now rather more than just a sharp nip in the air. She drew a small shawl out of her bag and wrapped it around Raja and herself.
After an hour of trudging across the desert sands, Hoven, the capital of the Hotlands, suddenly came into view. It was a small town with only a few thousand inhabitants. It was late evening, but they found that there was still a lot of life in the town, and the streets were crowded. The shops, too, were doing brisk business, selling all sorts of wares. Bright lights shone everywhere so that shoppers could inspect the merchandise properly. Some Hotlanders were gathered around small tables where they were drinking what looked like tea, and near each customer there was a contraption with a pipe that they inhaled and then threw out smoke.
There were numerous pharmacies, with travellers buying large quantities of medicines to take back to their countries and sell at a premium. They entered a less crowded pharmacy off the main street to buy the Osfofo herbal concoction for Dadima.
‘For how many patients do you need the medicine?’ asked the bespectacled shopkeeper.
‘Six.’ said Raja, after a moment’s thought. Samara looked at him in surprise.
‘Just in case there are others apart from Dadima,’ he explained, ‘who are in urgent need of the medicine.’ The dreaded khang was the most terrible cough known to mankind, and if not treated in time, could result in death.
The chemist was pleased that Raja was purchasing a fairly large quantity.
Having purchased the medicine for Dadima, they looked around for a place to eat. They entered a restaurant and were disappointed to find so few things listed on the menu. None of the exotic delicacies that Samara had sampled in Wetlands were there. Not even some of the plainer but tasty food sold in restaurants in Nonamia.
Barado was the lucky one! There were quite a few choices for him, and he selected a couple of suitable items from the camels’ menu, because there were not many horses in Hotlands.
Raja and Samara finally settled on a bread with goat’s cheese. The bread, alternately dark brown and light brown was baked in a deep oven and was longer than the height of any man walking on the streets. It was usually between eight to ten feet long.
‘Just a foot of the bread should be enough for my friend and myself,’ said Samara to the white hatted tavern keeper.
When the bread arrived they broke it up and spread goat cheese over it. They then dipped it into a chutney made of tomatoes and onions.
‘Like eating cardboard,’ said Raja loudly.
‘Hush,’ said Samara. ‘Someone might hear. No point in causing offence.’ She grimaced. ‘Not great, I agree, but probably very healthy.’
Privately, both Samara and Raja were thankful that they would not have to stay long in this country. Samara’s main worry was that they would very soon have to find the boy who would help her to rescue her parents, as she’d been told by the fairy.
As they wandered through the market, they came across a strange combination of articles in the clothes’ shops. In most parts of the world clothes’ shops stock clothes either for winter or for summer, depending on the season. Here in the Hotlands, however, they found that clothes’ shops displayed a sizeable quantity of summer clothing, such as T-shirts and shorts, and at the same time winter wear such as sweaters, woollen coats and shawls. What was even more surprising was that people were buying both summer and winter clothes at the same time.
‘You will catch a chill, dear sir,’ cried a turbaned shopkeeper with a white beard, and pointed at Raja, for he was wearing only his shirt.
He had not brought any warm clothing with him because he hadn’t for one moment thought it would be needed in Hotlands, of all places.
‘Oh, no, I’m fine as I am,’ insisted Raja.
‘For now, you are fine,’ said the shopkeeper scratching his beard doubtfully, ‘but you will not be fine later in the night unless you are under bedclothes. If you have to come out of a tent, what then?’
‘He’s right!’ Samara insisted they buy something to keep Raja warm. It would also be a memento from their visit to this strange land.
The shopkeeper produced several shawls and showed them to his customers. Raja selected one for himself and one for his grandmother back home who sometimes felt cold, even though in fact it was hardly ever chilly in Wetlands.
‘My shop is the best for winter clothing,’ said the shopkeeper proudly. ‘We even supply winter clothing to Snowlands.’
‘Oh, really!’ Samara was intrigued.
The princess didn’t have sufficient warm clothing for Snowlands, and she knew that she would have to go there very soon. She bought a few top-quality multicoloured extra-warm shawls, and persuaded Raja to buy a few as well.
The old man pocketed the money, overjoyed to have sold so many items.
Purchases made, they decided to ask around for the Sarai, the place recommended by Nando. It was not difficult to find because there was a very large painted signboard just outside the lodging house that could be seen from a distance. The Sarai was a large, fenced-off enclosure with about fifty tents for guests to stay in. There were no concrete buildings in the city and everybody, including important people such as the mayor, lived in tents.
The manager of the Sarai told them that most tents had everything they could wish for. In their tent there were two large single beds for Samara and Raja, a kitchen, a toilet, and even a large space for Barado to rest in. In fact, Barado had the biggest bedroom with a very high ceiling, for a camel was meant to live in it, and there was even a bushel of hay ready for Barado to eat.
‘We forgot to buy Koko, Raja,’ said Samara. ‘You remember the medicine that Nando had suggested for you?’
‘We’ll buy it tomorrow,’ said Raja, yawning as he sat down on the bed to untie his shoes. ‘I feel fine.’ He took off his socks and shoes, and began to scratch his toes, again yawning like mad. That day they had had a long journey and Samara decided to go to bed early. She was about to make this suggestion to Raja, but when she turned to talk to him, she found he was already fast asleep in his bed. She thought that he did look a bit under the weather, as Nando had previously suggested, but then decided that she was letting her imagination run away with itself, so she went to the next room to say good night to Barado.
12. A SUDDEN CRISIS
Next day in the morning, loud shouting outside the tent woke them up. It was the manager of the Sarai trying to get their attention.
‘What’s the hurry?’ asked Raja, as he opened the door, annoyed to have to get out of bed so early.
‘Don’t you know?’ said the lodgekeeper. ‘Very soon the dreaded ghawa will start. Please come outside and have breakfast as soon as you can.’
Samara and Raja were quite mystified, but accepted what the manager had said in good faith.
The breakfast hall was in a large tent next to the Sarai’s reception. Cereal with camel milk and dates had been placed on their table. Samara found the cereal bland, although the dark brown dates were fresh, plump and juicy. For Raja, who had spent all his life in Wetlands eating the tastiest food anywhere on the planet, it was a revelation to find that some of the food in the world was not tasty.
When I get back to Wetlands, he thought, I’ll certainly learn to be more appreciative of food cooked by my grandmother at home. He barely touched the main breakfast meal. He did however order more dates and ate them with satisfaction and vigour. Princess Samara smiled as she saw her friend polish off dates one after another in the space of a few minutes. Raja’s appetite assured her that he was in good health. Surely Nando’s fear that Raja had caught a disease were groundless? she thought.
The only person who was really satisfied with breakfast was Barado. He ate the staple food for the camels, a mixture of dates, oats and hay. For him, this was a new and interesting experience.
After breakfast, they went to speak to the manager to find out the fastest route back to Wetlands. When the manager heard that they were planning to leave at once, he was alarmed.
‘Upon my soul, you cannot do that!’ he cried.
Samara and Raja were puzzled by what he’d said, and asked him why they couldn’t leave.
‘You will not survive,’ said the manager, rubbing his brow. ‘You will be roasted alive, and so will that short camel of yours.’
‘He he,’ laughed Raja. ‘He he.’
Samara too couldn’t help grinning.
‘He is rather short, isn’t he?’ The manager joined in the laughter. ‘And he doesn’t even have a hump!’
Samara and Raja looked at each other and smiled. The manager had probably never seen a horse.
‘You don’t understand,’ said Samara. ‘We urgently need to get back to Wetlands to give some of the medicine we’ve bought in Hotlands to someone.’
‘You cannot go,’ repeated the manager, his brow furrowed in concern. ‘You will not survive the heat.’
‘But it’s not so hot here,’ said Raja.
‘Not hot!?’ cried the manager. ‘Of course, it’s not hot, now.’ He looked at the clock on the wall. ‘But in another half an hour it won’t be possible for any man, woman, child or animal to journey through the desert, because the dreaded and fearsome ghawa will start blowing.’
‘Ohh!’ said Samara.
‘Really?!’ said Raja.
Samara and Raja looked at each other.
‘You don’t know about the ghawa?’ said the manager, all smiles now. ‘That’s because you are foreigners who only arrived last night. I understand. Now I understand. Well, my friends, you will both see and hear the ghawa soon.’ He paused. ‘I hope you have eaten a heavy breakfast – because there won’t be any room service now?’
They both nodded.
‘Just as well, because you will not even be able to step out of your tents once the ghawa starts blowing.’
By now it was clear to both Raja and Samara that the manager had not taken leave of his senses. He was merely offering sound, practical advice.
‘Let’s stay indoors till the ghawa blows over,’ said Raja, whispering in Samara’s ear. ‘We can start our journey in the evening.’
‘That makes sense,’ agreed the princess. ‘Perhaps – I don’t know how –we shall also meet the boy who is to help us cross the River of Fire. That will save us a return trip.’
‘Your best bet would be to leave in the evening because by then the ghawa stops raging,’ said the manager as if he’d overheard their conversation. ‘The star you need to follow comes out early, and I can point it out to you.’ He paused. ‘A few hours after sunset it becomes chilly, so I recommend that you wrap up warm as you begin your journey through the desert. Why don’t you stop somewhere in the morning – I’ll tell you where –and then continue the next day?’ He paused as if to think. ‘I estimate you should be in Wetlands in eight days from now.’
Samara and Raja looked at each other and smiled. Once they knew the star they had to follow, Barado could cover the journey from the Hotlands to Wetlands in a single night.
‘It might take you a little longer, perhaps, because your white camel is rather short,’ added the manager.
It took all their willpower for Samara and Raja not to burst out laughing.
Barado, a short camel? Wasn’t that funny?
‘You’d best be getting back to your tent, now,’ said the manager. ‘Once the ghawa starts you will not be able to leave till the cool evening comes.’
Samara and Raja thanked the manager and made their way back to their tent. As they made their way past the other tents, they felt a sudden heat in the air. A warm wind had started blowing.
Inside their tent Samara found Barado. They had decided to stay in the same tent since it would be difficult to get out. As she stroked the horse’s face affectionately, Samara wondered how they would ever meet the boy who would help them cross the River of Fire if they had to remain indoors all day long. They would have to return to the Hotlands after the medicine had been given to Raja’s grandmother. Of course, Dadima was their first priority.
‘I’m feeling tired,’ said Raja. ‘I’m not sure why, really, because I slept very well last night.’
‘Go and rest,’ said Samara. ‘In any case, there’s nothing much to do.’
Raja lay down on the bed. Samara noticed that her friend’s early morning cheery, fresh countenance had vanished. The eyes were now reddish, and his face pale. She touched his arm, and was shocked to feel how warm it was.
‘You have a high fever, Raja,’ she said. ‘I do hope you are going to be all right.’
Raja’s eyes were closed, and he was muttering to himself. Samara felt his arm again and found it was even warmer.
‘Oh, Raja,’ she said, worried sick. ‘I hope you haven’t caught that dreadful sickness that Nando mentioned. We really should have bought something for you from the pharmacy yesterday, but you looked so well I thought there was no need. In the morning, when I saw you eat all those dates for breakfast, I assumed my fears were groundless.’
‘Shall I get him the medicine that Nando recommended?’ she said, turning to Barado. ‘Koko, I think it was called.’
Barado nodded his head.
‘All right then,’ said Samara. ‘I’ll be back in a trice.’
She peered out of the tent, but could see nothing but a swirl of red dust. She put out her hand to see how hot the wind was, and felt as though she had grabbed a lump of hot coal between her fingers. It was boiling outside. The swirling red dust made it impossible to see anything.
‘What shall we do?’ Samara cried to Barado. ‘Nando must have been right. Raja has contracted the deadly teribola, and he has to have the antidote soon or he will die.’
Barado could not go on his own, because no one but Samara could hear him speak. How could he tell the pharmacist the name of the medicine and how would he pay for it?
‘You could write a note,’ suggested Barado, after a moment’s thought, ‘and put it, and some money under my saddle. It’s the only way!’
Samara, however, was worried about sending Barado out in the ghawa. She knew the horse adjusted to differences in climate and temperature, but no man or beast could survive raging tempest outside.
They were still wondering what they could do when they heard the chime of a bell. Each tent has bell tied to a hanging rope outside for visitors to announce themselves. It seemed they had a visitor. Who could possibly have braved the impossible weather to come to their tent?
Samara opened the flap of the tent with great care. She knew that the nasty wind blowing outside would be only too pleased to scald her fingers. Despite the whirling dust, she made out that it was Nando standing outside.
‘Do you have some sugar, Princess?’ he said, speaking between clenched teeth, as he didn’t want to swallow any of the dust. ‘I’m staying in a tent next door to you, and there doesn’t seem to be any sugar in the kitchen. I’m making some sweet buttermilk.’
‘We have loads of sugar,’ cried the princess, relieved to see him. ‘Come in please. We need to talk. We have an emergency, and perhaps you can help us.’ She paused to stare at him. ‘How on earth are you managing to stand outside in this weather? Come in at once. Otherwise you’ll be like a roasted chicken in next to no time.’
‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ said Nando coming into the tent. ‘Some of us living in the desert have got used to the ghawa. By the way, how is Raja keeping? I was worried he had caught the deadly teribola, but he insisted that he felt all right.’
‘That’s what I wanted to talk to you about!’ said Samara. ‘It seems that he has contracted something all right. He was perfectly all right until this morning, but all of a sudden he got a high fever.’
‘There is an incubation period,’ nodded Nando, ‘before the disease gets its full grip on the body. Usually, however, whoever contracts the disease experiences a strange itching sensation between the toes. When Raja said yesterday evening that he had no such sensation I was relieved. I thought that I was perhaps mistaken and that his face was flushed only because he wasn’t used to the climate.’
‘You mentioned a medicine last night,’ said the princess. ‘Do you happen to be carrying any samples with you by any chance?’
‘No, I have none with me,’ said Nando.
‘When does the medicine have to be administered?’
‘Within four hours of the person getting a high fever,’ said Nando. ‘After four hours the disease cannot be brought under control using medicine. It’s difficult to save anyone then.’
‘What’s the time?’ cried Samara anxiously. Her eye fell on the hour glass next to the bed, which measured time by the amount of sand pouring from one glass to another. ‘It’s twenty minutes past twelve! And we came back from breakfast at half past eight. Oh, dear God!’
‘Oh, I say, this is very serious!’ said Nando. ‘We have just ten minutes to administer the medicine to Raja or he will die.’
‘What do we do now?’ cried the princess in despair. ‘How on earth are we going to get the medicine?’
‘That’s not such a big problem,’ said Nando. ‘I know a pharmacist close by. He has a shop inside his house and I can get him to open it for me. All the stores would be closed at this time of the day because no one would go out shopping at this time of the day when it’s so hot and windy outside. I can just run across and get some of the stuff.’ He became very serious. ‘There is no time. I must go now if I’m to bring it back in time.’
‘But how?’ cried the princess passionately. ‘It’s so blazing hot outside. The ghawa will scald your skin and burn you.’
‘Oh, there’s no problem about that; the ghawa doesn’t bother me,’ said Nando. ‘I’ll be back with the medicine as soon as I can,’ and without further argument or discussion he dashed out of the tent.
The next ten minutes were the longest in Samara’s life. Raja was moaning in his sleep and making strange sounds. She couldn’t bear to see him as he was now, tossing and turning and almost delirious with the high fever that was a symptom of the disease. Barado sat on his haunches next to the bed staring at Raja and looking very worried.
The seconds ticked away. Samara’s eyes never moved from the hour glass, willing the sand not to fall and for time to stop. Her mind alert, she took a few seconds to fill a tumbler full of water that she placed on the mantelpiece next to Raja’s bed. If Nando did indeed return with the medicine Raja could at once swallow it together with the water.
Two minutes, four minutes, six minutes, eight minutes… The second hand had just signalled the end of nine minutes when Nando dashed into the tent, flushed with the exertion of running to the pharmacy and back. Samara noticed that he had not been burnt or scarred in any way. The ghawa had not harmed him.
‘Here!’ he said breathlessly, passing a bottle to the princess. ‘That’s the medicine. Give it to Raja at once.’
Raja had his eyes closed, mouth open and was moaning even more than before. There were just fifty seconds to go from the time Samara had the medicine in her hands. It took ten seconds for Samara to make Raja sit upright, another five seconds to place the tablet on his tongue, another ten seconds for her to pour water down his throat. Then she had to make very sure that he had indeed swallowed the medicine and that it was not stuck somewhere in his gullet. Samara made Raja drink some more water and thumped him a few times on his back, just as the second hand drew close to finishing the tenth minute.
‘Now we just have to wait and see,’ said Nando who had been in similar situations many times before. ‘Usually within fifteen seconds the body temperature starts to fall, but during this time it’s important to keep Raja warm, otherwise he might collapse from too sudden a fall in temperature. Do you have any warm clothes?’
‘No, I don’t have any,’ said Samara, and turned to Barado for confirmation.
If Barado could have patted the sack that lay across his belly he would have done so, but in language that only Samara could understand he said, ‘Of course we have warm clothes. You and Raja bought some only yesterday. Don’t forget that we have to go to Snowlands.’
‘Oh yes,’ cried Samara, ‘Of course! How could I forget? We do have warm clothes.’ And together she and Nando began to dig out the clothes in the sack and spread them on top of Raja.
After half an hour later, it was all over. Raja’s temperature had returned to normal and his face was no longer flushed and sweating. He was sitting upright, and it seemed difficult to believe that he had so recently been so close to finishing his journey in the world.
‘What happened?’ said Raja. ‘Was I asleep?’
‘You almost never woke up,’ said Nando.
Samara told Raja what had happened. He looked shocked.
‘Teribola patients often cannot remember their sickness,’ said Nando. ‘This is because they become delirious as soon as the fever hits them.’
‘I’m feeling hungry,’ announced Raja.
‘That’s a sure sign of full recovery,’ laughed Nando. ‘Let me get some fruit pudding from the kitchen for all of us.’
‘Are you sure, Raja?’ said Samara. ‘Shouldn’t you wait a while, after such a fever?’
‘I’m never unsure about eating pudding,’ said the patient.
‘It’ll be good for him,’ said Nando, helping him out, ‘and besides I haven’t eaten a proper breakfast as well. I’ll just be back.’ So, saying, he rushed out of the tent.
13. NANDO THE FIRE BOY
Nando came back with a wooden tray on which had been placed a large bowl of fruit pudding, mainly pomegranates and figs covered with a light coating of cream. Samara helped to transfer the pudding on to three smaller plates.
‘How can you possibly walk into that blazingly hot ghawa so coolly?’ remarked the princess, as she spooned tiny, red jewels of the pomegranate into her mouth.
‘Some of us in the desert are born with this ability,’ said Nando modestly. ‘It’s not a big deal. And we did need a celebration for Raja’s recovery.’
‘That’s true,’ said Samara. ‘I was so scared. I thought there was no way we were going to get hold of the medicine.’ She turned to Raja who was enjoying the pudding. ‘Had it not been for Nando’s ability to face terrible, blazing winds…’
‘If you can walk through fiery winds,’ said Raja, looking up from his plate, ‘maybe you can walk through fire. We should call you Fire Boy.’
‘Fire?’ said Nando modestly. ‘I don’t think so - but hot winds, certainly. Some of our people call the wind fiery because it will scald and burn your skin, although there is no actual fire burning.’
‘This is the boy we have been looking for, Princess,’ said Raja.
‘I did say you were a princess, didn’t I?’ Nando looked at Samara. ‘Which is your kingdom.’
‘I’m the Princess of Nonamia’ said Samara.
‘Oh, I say,’ exclaimed Nando. ‘Are you the daughter of King Menelik? Your father, how is he? It was because of your father that my family were able to escape the clutches of the evil wizard Hoohoo when he declared war on our kingdom.’
‘It’s not Hoohoo,’ said Samara. ‘The wizard’s name is Zoozoo.’
‘Are you talking about the wizard who is very tall and has green…’ Nando began.
‘…glittering eyes?’ finished Raja. ‘Yes, it is the same.’
‘And his name is Zoozoo,’ said Samara.
‘If you say so,’ said Nando. ‘Anyway, what brings you here?’
The princess then told Nando the whole story. She explained how, after they’d crossed the Kaala Pani Lake with the Golden Key, the next task would be to carry the key through a fiery storm that would scald any ordinary person’s skin.
‘You are the boy we were supposed to meet,’ sighed Samara, ‘and yesterday in the desert we didn’t realise this.’
‘It shouldn’t be a problem for me,’ said Nando. ‘There are no storms fiercer than the ones here. Oh, dear princess, do not hesitate to ask me for anything that I might be able to do for you. I am happy to go through any fiery storms.’
‘The first task will be to get hold of the Golden Key from a dog called Jhabru,’ said the Princess.
‘Should that be so difficult?’ asked Nando.
‘It is difficult,’ said Raja, ‘because this dog is no ordinary dog. It’s a huge dog, isn’t it, Princess?’
‘About twenty times the size of a normal big dog,’ said Samara, who had been told this by Khabar. ‘But we’ll think of a solution for that later. Where do you live, Nando?’
‘It is not far from here. It’s known as Sutthan, and it’s a place known for its medicinal herbs.’
‘How can you find medicinal herbs in the desert?’ said the princess. ‘I don’t see many plants growing. There’s only yellow, sandy desert everywhere.’
‘You’re quite right, Princess.’ Nando laughed. ‘In most parts of the Hotlands, few plants grow, but there is an oasis where they do grow plentifully. It is there that I live with my kinsmen. We also have fruit trees in abundance. When you met me in the desert yesterday, I was carrying fruit to sell in a nearby town.’
Nando’s eye fell on a large brown packet of medicine that was on the table. ‘That’s a lot of medicine.’
‘Raja decided to buy extra, just in case there were others in Wetlands who also needed the medicine apart from his Dadima,’ explained Samara.
‘That’s a wonderful thought, Raja,’ said Nando. ‘I could have got you a discount.’
‘It doesn’t really matter,’ said Raja.
‘Of course, it matters!’ cried Nando. ‘We could have given the extra money away to poor people! I always try and give as much as I can.’
His last sentence was spoken with such vehemence that both Raja and Samara were taken aback.
‘So, do you help poor people with the money you make from selling fruit?’ asked Raja.
‘‘The last time I gave away all the profit I made to the poor my kinsmen were most upset with me.’ Nando smiled sadly at the memory. ‘I agreed never to do so again.’ He paused. ‘We have now agreed that I can give away a certain percentage of the profits to the poor.’ He grew serious. ‘I want to do that. The poor need our help.’
Princess Samara saw Nando differently now. It had annoyed her when Nando had talked of wanting to buy Barado, but now she realised that his motives were geared more towards helping people than to making lots of money. He was someone after her own heart.